Category Archives: Iraq

The “non-sectarian” nationalism of the political reconstruction of Iraq

As Muqtada al-Sadr brings new hope of a new non-sectarian nationalist politics to Iraq, the selection of Barham Salih as president and Adel Abdul-Mahdi as prime minister confirm the positive trend. Marco Cornelos writes on the subject:

On 2 October, the Iraqi parliament appointed Kurdish politician Barham Salih as the new president of the republic. This is good news for the country and for the region.

Salih is a sophisticated and experienced personality, relentless in promoting dialogue and coexistence. He knows the complexities and the shortcomings of his country, the composite interests of its neighbours, and how to address the international community to maintain the support to Iraq. Although the provisions of the Iraqi constitution limit his powers, the new president, through his authoritativeness, will definitely raise the profile of the presidency in Iraqi policy; hopefully, he will also be able to lessen the intricacies of its political system.

Salih could play an important role in steering Washington away from making more fateful mistakes in the region; similarly, he could also soften certain “basic instincts” coming from some political circles in Tehran. In assuming his new role, Salih behaved differently from any other Iraqi politician arriving in such a high position. Only two hours after his oath, he formally asked Adel Abdul Mahdi to form a new government. Someone else would have waited days, maybe weeks, to revel their newly acquired power and take credit for Mahdi’s selection.

The tandem between the new president and the newly designated prime minister could be one of the more promising events that Iraq has been waiting for, for many years.

The challenges facing the new Iraqi leadership are daunting. Three priorities top the long list of what needs to be done. The first one is restoring basic services to the population, particularly in two critical areas: the ones liberated from Islamic State and in southern Iraq, which has been criminally neglected for decades and is now on the brink of an environmental disaster. The second is fighting corruption, together with streamlining bureaucratic procedures to attract investment, relaunch the economy and post-war reconstruction. The third priority is an effective counter-intelligence and law-enforcement effort to completely eradicate Da’esh. Reliable high-ranking Iraqi sources point to at least 20,000 jihadists still at large in the country, not only in the western part but also in north and western Baghdad, western Mosul and Kirkuk.

Nonetheless, a sense of fresh air is provided by the recent political developments. Iraq is distancing itself from its previous religious and ethnic sectarianism. Political blocs have more cross-confessional and cross-ethnic configuration.

Signs of political maturity in the Iraqi scene

One of the evident signs of the increasing political maturity in Iraq is that the same Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) – the Iran-backed militia, which played a major role in defeating IS – are engaged in an outreach exercise towards disgruntled Sunni constituencies. Iraq’s Sunnis have been affected by the shifting power balance in the country, the cruelty of Daesh and the destruction imposed by the conflict in the last four years.

Appointing Salih as president, Iraqi MPs also decided independently and against the will of the main Kurdish political party, the KDP.

Solid rumours point to the selection of Adel Abdul Mahdi for prime minister as the result of a tripartite agreement among the most important Shia power brokers in the region: Iranian IRGC Commander Qassem Suleimani, Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, and Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr. Therefore, if Iraq was a boxing match, Suleimani has prevailed over Brett McGurk, the US president’s special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat IS, on points. Washington’s first choice as head of the government, the outgoing prime minister Haider al-Abadi, has been sidelined. Notwithstanding his merits in the successful conflict against IS, certain reservations about him in Tehran and the cold shoulder from Najaf’s Marja’aya, Iraq’s highest Shia religious authority, turned out to be insurmountable.

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Iranian ally Adel Abdul-Mahdi for Prime Minister of Iraq

Adil Abdul-Mahdi al-Muntafiki (left above) is being asked by Barham Saleh, the newly elected President of Iraq, to form the new Iraqi government. He served as a Vice President from 2005 to 2011, as Oil Minister from 2014 to 2016, and as Finance Minister in the Interim government.

Abdel-Mahdi is a member of the Shi’a party the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, or SIIC, which was based in neighboring Iran during the Saddam Hussein era, after being established there in 1982 by Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim. SIIC’s militia wing used to be the Badr Brigade during the Iraqi Civil War of 2006–2007. After the Badr Brigade started its own party, the two continue in the same parliamentary coalition, National Wisdom Movement led by Ammar el-Hakim, which won 19 seats (in sixth place) in this year’s elections.

This a bad day for the US, which was pushing for Haidar el-Abadi to return to the post of Prime Minister, especially after the election of Barham Saleh from Sulaimaniyya and a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), also long standing allies of Iran in Kurdistan. The PUK stood against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s independence referendum pushed forward by Masood Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), with (overt) Israeli and (covert) US support. Saleh beat Barzani’s ally, Fuad Hussein in with 219 votes to 22 for the post of president. This astonishing win is at least partly due to the Shi’ite majority in Baghdad paying Barzani back for the independence referendum.

Also very a important reason for this outcome was the fact that Barham Saleh is known to be honest. Under his watch running the Suleimaniyah District, he had the airport built for only $43 million, while the facility in fact was worth $80 million. Some British and American companies had offered to build the airport for $100 million (which would have allowed them to share the extra profit with him – a practice common in Iraq, which politicians frequently acquiesce to in order to fund themselves).

Some in Turkmen circles are speculating that the US, backed by the PKK, PYD/YPG (aka Syrian  Democratic Force) in Syria, and the KDP in Erbil is trying to create an independent US-run Kurdish Kurdish enclave across NW Syria and Northern Iraq to exploit its oil and gas resources.  At least someone is having a crack at explaining why the US wants to keep its troops in Syria indefinitely.

Battle for Iraq: Blowback from US Presidential Envoy’s threat to Sunni Iraqi MPs

As tensions now shift from Northern Syria to Northern Iraq, US Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk personally calls every Sunni MP in the Iraqi Parliament demanding their vote for Haidar el-Abadi’s leadership in the current political negotiations, and threatening them with “removing US security protection” from their constituencies in the event of no compliance.

“One wonders what removing security protection is supposed to mean” muses MP Kotaiba al-Jabbouri in the video clip above, who added that the reaction of the Sunni MPs, including himself, was to throw their lot in with the Coalition for Development , which comprises Hadi al-Amiri’s “Conquest Alliance” and Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law” party.

The Coalition for Development is the pro-Iranian bloc which now seeks to exceed the 162 seats of the self-proclaimed “ruling bloc” that comprises the “Alliance of Revolutionaries for Reform”  headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, and includes Haidar el-Abadi‘s “Victory Alliance”, from which 22 MPs have defected since the proclamation. So its rule is now far from assured, especially after the blowback from McGurk threats.

The future now beckons a free Idlib, while US Kurdish proxies move against Iran

As this site has predicted for some time, Erdoğan convinced Putin of the need to de-escalate military threats in Idlib, through a combination of arming opposition forces, reinforcing Turkey’s positions,  and organising a major diplomatic offensive to bring Western powers behind Turkish policy. The presidents of Russia and Turkey may have agreed yesterday to create a “demilitarised zone” around Idlib, but this outcome was far from obvious after the Tehran summit broke up on September 7th.

Putin’s sudden cooperative stance at Sochi, and his emphasis now on the importance of Russian trade relations with Turkey, means that he had not fully taken into consideration the extent to which Turkey was willing to go to support the opposition to Assad and the dangers that posed to the Syrian régime if an assault on Idlib had led to counter-attacks in Aleppo and Hama, widening the war once again and exposing the régime’s threadbare nature. The survival of Assad is essential for the presence of Russian bases in Syria, and so is the continuation of the myth spun by Russian media that he has somehow won the war, even if he controls less than 50% of Syrian territory, all of it an economic basket-case.

The economic burden that Assad’s Syrian region poses for Russia is clear from the unsuccessful road show Putin recently promoted in Western capitals for the reconstruction of Syria. If Idlib had caused a Russo-Turkish split once again, not only would the Assad victory myth be fatally undermined but Russian economic plans in Turkey would also have to be put on hold; whether Turkstream, the Akkuyu power plant, or the wider project for dedollarisation of Russian trade in general that its currently good relations with Turkey is making possible.

The same kind of scenario holds for Iran. Its latest supportive announcement in favour of the Russian-Turkish deal, follows the relief felt by the Iranian government over the Turkish rejection of anti-Iranian US sanctions. It also perceives the economic opportunities offered by Turkish trade and Turkey’s centrality to the dedollarisation project as crucial to its national interest. Iran also helped to sway the balance of forces away from an assault on Idlib, and encourage the withdrawal of Syrian régime forces. It is also clear to Iran, with the unprecedented Western-backed Israeli attacks on Syria taking place, that the real threats to its national security have little to do with Idlib or indeed Turkey.

The agreement between Russia and Idlib is extremely important for the survival of the political rather than military solution to Syria’s future. Much of the pro-Russian media and assorted liberal commentators have always argued for the military option, for the crushing of the opposition to Assad, and now they maintain that Assad is merely biding his time. That is false. Assad would have come off the worse for a confrontation with Turkey, even with Russian air cover. The new Russo-Turkish agreement is turning point for the Arab Spring, a revival of the hopes for which is now making liberal commentators furious.

The details of the Sochi agreement are that a 15-20km wide buffer zone in Idlib jointly policed by Russian and Turkish forces is to come into force by 15 October, involving the “withdrawal of all radical fighters” including the ex-al-Qaeda Hay’at Tahrir el-SHAM (HTS). Erdoğan and Putin also agreed on the withdrawal of “heavy weaponry from this zone,” including tanks, multiple launch rocket systems, and rocket launchers, much of which had recently been supplied by Turkey anyway, in preparation for the upcoming attack. Now all this will be withdrawn to Turkish territory once again, and the radical groups moved to the Jarablus region of Syria, on the border with Syrian Kurdistan. Turkish intelligence (MİT) has now bought time to sift through the individuals in all those groups to be able weed out the foreign fighters and more dangerous elements during relocation.

War drums in Iraq: While the US makes agreeable noises about this new Russo-Turkish agreement, it is hardly overjoyed at the strengthening of those relations and of the Turkish position in northern Syria. The idea that there is any active US backing for a ceasefire in Idlib and a political solution in Syria is further misdirection from liberal commentary. US belligerence is merely taking a new turn, as tensions in the region now shift from Northern Syria to Northern Iraq, where Iran is facing increasing military pressure from US proxies.

It has become clear that US control in Syrian Kurdistan is viewed by the Pentagon as a launchpad for the re-taking of Northern Iraq with the help of the alphabet-soup of various Kurdish proxies. US Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk’s presence in Irbil during the negotiations for the formation of the next Iraqi government is evidence enough. Current US-backed Iraqi prime minister Abadi, whose future in those negotiations is uncertain as a result of his soaring unpopularity in the Iraqi street, is trying to curry favour with the US during this process by acting to bolster Kurdish positions in Iraq against Turkish incursions targeting the PKK.

In a sudden development, a ruling bloc is formed in the Iraqi parliament

A meeting between representatives of 11 parliamentary parties, most notably al-Sa’iroun (or the “Alliance of Revolutionaries for Reform”  with 54 seats*, headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, comprising the Sadrist Movement and the Communist Party,  Haidar el-Abadi‘s “Victory Alliance” (or “Tahaluf el-Nasr”)  with 42 seats*, Iyad Allawi‘s National Alliance (or “al-Wataniyya”, the party closest to US interests)  with 22 seats*, and Ammar el-Hakim, ex-ally of el-Abadi, and his National Wisdom Movement 19 seats*, among others have formed a bloc of 162 deputies that will be able to nominate a prime minister.

Iraqi sources expect others to join the bloc before the parliamentary session Monday morning. The new bloc visibly excludes the parties led by Nouri el-Maliki and Hadi el-Amiri , the politicians closest to Iran. It is a significant indication of the increased pressures applied in the Iraqi political scene that there have been tensions between el-Abadi and Tehran over the application of US anti-Iranian sanctions in Iraq, although el-Abadi has said that this will be limited to restricting trade in any goods denominated in US dollars. Still, his position has meant that Tehran cancelled meetings due with el-Abadi in Tehran this week. El-Abadi visited Ankara, however, which has adopted the policy of ignoring US anti-Iranian sanctions.

Sadr wins the recount: nothing changes but the mood sours (update)

Muqtada al-Sadr’s alliance wins the vote recount, retaining all 54 of the 329 seats it won in the May 12 vote, with the only change being an extra seat for the Conquest Alliance of pro-Iranian former paramilitary fighters led by Hadi al-Amiri, which remains in second place. This outcome should be confidence building, and is good news for Iraq’s new nationalistic-cum-pluralistic political temper, the country having been sidelined for too long in a sectarian cul-de-sac.

However, tension is growing between two blocs that are forming around al-Sadr/Abadi and that al-Maliki/Amiri as the formation of a government is delayed. There are rumours of active US preparations for confrontation with Iranian-backed groups. Will the battleground with Iran now shift to Iraq? Watch this space.

Iraqi Nationalism returns as Muqtada el-Sadr leads the winning party in the parliamentary election

Along with victories for Ennahda in Tunisia, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and now the Sadrist alliance in Iraq, a nationalist reaction happening in elections in Arab countries, whose politics have been riven by increased foreign interference driving sectarian and factional differences, ever since the Arab Spring, to scupper the Arab dream of freedom.

On the Move” (al-Sa’iroun) or the “Alliance of Revolutionaries for Reform” (54 seats*), headed by Muqtada al-Sadr, comprising the Sadrist Movement and the Communist Party wins the most seats, possibly as much as a third. This result will put the US’s nose out of joint.

The Iran-backed “Conquest Alliance” or “Fatah Alliance”, headed by Hadi al-Amiri (47 seats*), comprising the popular base of the Haashd el-Shaabi  militias and some Sunni groups, comes second, while the US-backed Haidar al-Abadi‘s “Victory Alliance” or “Tahaluf el-Nasr” comes third (42 seats*).

All three leading groups are cross-sectarian, which augurs a major improvement in the nature of Iraqi politics. The other Iranian-backed party, “State of Law coalition” run by Nouri al-Maliki is really no longer in the running (26 seats*), although it is a potential coalition partner with the Conquest Alliance, coming equal fourth with the Kurdish Democratic Party (26 seats*). Iyad Allawi‘s National Alliance or “al-Wataniyya” (the party closest to US interests) comes fifth (22 seats*); Ammar el-Hakim, ex-ally of el-Abadi, and his National Wisdom Movement come sixth (19 seats*); The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan comes seventh (18 seats*); and the Sunni Uniters for Reform Coalition or “Decision Alliance” come eighth (14 seats*).  The remaining 61 seats are split between 12 other parties and some independents*.

*updates 18th March, subject to objections of widespread electoral fraud, which have not yet been addressed 

The only problem with the elections, however, was the low voter turnout of 44%. Nevertheless, this represented an abstention by older generations and the younger generation seeking change were disproportionately represented.

It looks like Sadr wants to exclude al-Amiri and al-Maliki from any future coalition. Given that Sadr and the Sadrists don’t want to be PM, it may be that Abadi is offered the job as long as he pursues the nationalist Sadrist plan. Sadr, Abadi and al-Hakim together can, with their allies, dominate parliament with half the seats. Iran, on the other hand, through auspices of Qasem Soleimani are trying to bring Abadi into coalition with al-Amiri and al-Maliki, to form a government. Iran is firmly opposed to the Communist element in Sadr’s coalition. So Abadi finds himself in the middle of a tug-of-war, but either way he will be turning his back on the US.

The political outcome of these events means the US will have to accept much more limited influence than Abadi allowed them to have during his recent tenure. As Marco Carnelos points out: “Irrespective of Moqtada Al Sadr’s victory in the Iraqi elections, the political outcome in the country will be more favourable to Tehran than Washington”.

The rout of Barzani’s KDP continues as PMM-backed Yazidi group retakes Sinjar

As Masoud Barzani’s independence gambit lies in tatters, and the Peshmerga continue their retreat, the Iraqi Yazidi group Lalesh, affiliated with Iraq’s Iran-backed PMM (Al-Hashd al-Shaabi), takes over the Yazidi capital in Northern Iraq, Sinjar.

The Iraqi federal government’s Joint Operations Command said that Iraqi forces have been redeployed, aside from Sinjar and other areas in the Nineveh plains, across Khanaqin and Jalawla in Diyala province, as well as Makhmur, Bashiqa, and the Mosul dam, Sinjar.

Calls for Barzani’s resignation are coming in now from all quarters of the Kurdish community.

The third act of the Iraqi Saga: Iraq coming together under Abadi

The final act of the Iraqi gambit launched  by G. W. Bush/A. Blair gambit to “reshape the Middle-East” is underway, and may have a surprising outcome. After the 2003 US invasion and subsequent withdrawal, the US proceeded to gradually reinstate itself in Northern Iraq (and Syria) through it alliance with the Kurds, in what is ostensibly a campaign against DAESH/ISIS, the spread of which, however, there is now ample documentation to prove, the US had earlier helped to promote as part of a strategy to destabilise and remove the Assad régime in Damascus, and sever the bridge between Iran and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.

The US had also helped the Iraqi army reorganise after its defeat in Mosul 2014, given that Daesh/ISIS was threatening the whole of Iraq at the time, and the Iraqi army would be necessary boots on the ground for a difficult campaign against a widely spread opponent. Ultimately, it was the reorganised Iraqi army, with a few US advisers, but nevertheless under Haidar el-Abadi’s leadership, that cut its teeth, and lost much blood, in retaking Mosul. Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi was, until now, veering towards an alliance with the US against the rigidly pro-Iranian sections (e.g. Nouri al-Maliki) of the Iraqi political scene.

All this was before KRG referendum on independence and Trump’s speech decertifying the  Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action  (JCPOA) P5+1+EU Iran Nuclear Deal, and his thinly veiled threats against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Together these spelled a potential reigniting of US ambitions to sever the bridge now between Iran and Syria (Assad having survived) with a Kurdish entity under its aegis. Furthermore, with a Kurdish population in Iran, a KRG-US alliance could potentially provide the US with direct and effective lever to undermine the Iranian régime. It was hardly likely that Iran, with its deep involvement in Iraq, and its need to keep the direct link with Syria would stand idly by and allow that situation to be realised.

Abadi’s reliance on the US to bolster his own position will now melt away, as he will build on his reputation as the conqueror of Mosul. This requires his continued campaigning to keep control over the Iraqi army forces, which have now become the foundation of his rule. The Iraqi PMM militia (el-Hashd el-Shaabi) represents a potential competitor, supported directly by Iran’s IRGC, that he needs to keep on a tight leash in all future conflict. This he can only do by keeping it marginalised as a force secondary to his own.  Trump’s speech will have pushed the IRGC to increase its investment in the PMM hugely to ensure the KRG/Peshmerga’s defeat (besides the effect it is having in raising the IRGC’s stock within Iran) . The US will continue to supply Abadi, irrespective of what he does, because he is their only potentially ally in Baghdad, while Abadi himself will focus on his race against these various mounting pressures.

The KRG’s independence referendum presented a opportunity that answered Abadi’s political needs. The US can now only sit and watch as tensions mount between two of its allies. Trump’s speech made this outcome inevitable. Abadi is on the road to turning himself into a indispensable political force in Iraq as he commits to marginalising the KRG by retaking the Kirkuk oil fields and thus the major source of its revenue. This, it would appear, he has begun to do as the Peshmerga retreat from Kirkuk. The revenue itself is of little import to a government in Baghdad that produces ten times as much oil in its southern provinces. The whole point is to render the KRG’s independence gambit cashless.

Given that the Peshmerga forces that abandoned their positions in Kirkuk belong to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) faction, it would appear that a deal has been struck between Baghdad and the PUK to unseat Barzani and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in Irbil. Bafel Talabani, the son of PUK leader, the late Jalal Talabani, had opposed the referendum and had warned the Kurds were heading for disaster. Two large oil fields a bit further west of Kirkuk, Bai Hassan and Avana Dome, are as of writing, still under Kurdish management although the Peshmerga have now left. Temporary shutdown of oil production at the two field appears to have been reversed as the Iraqi government threatened to remove the management.

Kirkuk has been a bone of contention between Baghdad and the KDP Irbil since the very beginning of the functioning of the new Iraqi constitution. The Kurds had benefitted from US patronage ever since Bill Clinton’s no-fly zone. When the new constitution was written, the KRG was given special autonomy, but without Kirkuk which is only one-third Kurdish in demographic terms. However, it was KDP policy to change that situation by bussing Kurdish populations into Kirkuk, changing, in a phase made famous by the Israelis, “facts on the ground”. This led to bad relations with the Federal Government in Baghdad, whose leaders eventually stopped paying the KRG bureaucracy’s salaries. The referendum was only to go ahead because of the personal intervention of Kirkuk’s hawkish Kurdish governor, Najmeddin Karim. Now he has been stripped of all his powers.

What is helping Abadi to reach his goal is the fact that the US has managed to so undermine its relationship with Turkey, with its Kurdish alliances, that the Turks are now opening new direct border connections with Iraq that bypass its erstwhile KRG. This has led to the complete regional isolation of the KRG, given that Iran is also now effectively closing its own border points with the Kurdish enclave at Haji Omaran, Parwezkhan and Bashmaq. Thus under total siege, KRG’s president Masoud Barzani’s position is unenviable. Time and history is on Abadi’s side, and potentially a military triumph in Kirkuk will mean the survival of Iraq as a nation and its astonishing retreat from the brink of partition.

This will also give hope to Sunnis in Iraq, as a post-campaign consolidation of Abadi’s power vis-à-vis Iranian elements in Iraq, will require that he brings Sunnis under his political tent. This outcome would need to involve a rebalancing of the post-war sectarian régime in Baghdad with its lack of governing capability, but is likely to occur as a result of the new tripartite interaction between Turkey, Iran and Iraq at multiple economic, political and security levels and the need to satisfy the broad range of interests all this entails.

What is now abundantly clear is that the G. W. Bush/A. Blair gambit to “reshape the Middle-East” has failed, and since the beginning of the Astana process, regional powers are consolidating their hold on the region’s security, and sidelining the US. It is remarkable that, unlike Syria, which is now merely a de juro entity, Iraq looks like it will regain its sovereignty. The defeat of the KDP, will bring the KRG back as a player within the Baghdad political scene, while the clear need to include Sunnis in the process will likely be answered by Abadi, for his own political reasons, quite besides it being part of a regional settlement. It all may collapse again, but this is unlikely.

Muqtada al-Sadr’s various attacks on the Federal government over the past two years, has made it clear that there is a strong current in Shia politics in favour of an Iraqi nationalist stance, independent of Iran which Abadi can rely on, and which he can now invest in virtue of his new stature since in success in Mosul, and in Kirkuk (although this last success has something also to do with negotiations between the PUK/Talabani clan and the IRGC’s Qasim Suleimani that took place in Suleimaniya during the KRG’s referendum). A democratic federated Iraq may slowly be emerging, and the era of ethno-nationalisms fading.

 

 

A Tale of Two Independence Referenda

Catalonia and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) are instances of the central government behaving badly in Spain’s case and the regional entity behaving badly in the other. The fallout in the case of Spain will be ongoing instability, which will have a Europe-wide impact, and in the case of the KRG, contrary to all prognostications, will have a stabilising effect on the Middle East, as Barzani is forced to climb down from the tree he is sitting on.

Spain felt some of the worst effects of the financial crash in Europe and really hasn’t recovered since, except as far as the country’s manipulated national accounts are concerned. Youth unemployment officially at 39%, unofficially much higher, is foreshadowing a lost generation. The effects of all this on Catalan national feeling in the face of an unpopular government of austerity that keeps coming back into power in Madrid, cast the die.

Moreover, this north-eastern region of Spain was granted autonomy under the 1978 constitution. However, a fraught relationship between the political classes in Madrid and Barcelona began in 2010 when extra powers granted to Catalonia in 2006 were unilaterally rescinded by Spain’s Constitutional Court. An unofficial vote on independence in November 2014 showed 80% support for secession, after which the Catalan Regional Government (CRG) decided to launch the current referendum (which seems to have achieved a 90% yes vote of 2.2m people, on a 42% turnout).

Unlike the KRG, the CRG has the administrative wherewithal to make success of independence, and the democratic structures to make independence about all the residents of the region. The reaction of the central government in Madrid will cost it dear in terms of credibility. Without Catalonia, Spain as an entity may shrink, but as a geographical entity, Catalonia isn’t going anywhere, and there is no reason for either economy to suffer anymore than they have already. In fact, shaking moribund Spanish political structures is what is needed for the future.

International opinion has swung the way of Catalonia even as Madrid pummels its people into submission. Nevertheless, the EU has determined their referendum to be illegal, which now presumably makes a mockery of its decision to allow Kosovo to separate from Serbia and continue life as a failed state. The Spanish King read out the script handed to him by the Madrid government, which will reinforce Catalan resistance. The strange thing is that although a part of the Catalan population is opposed to leaving Spain, it is still wholly united with the nationalists when it comes to maximum devolution. Perhaps that is message that needs to be understood.

Barzani’s KRG on the other hand, where the independence referendum passed with over 90% of the vote, is an entity without democratic structures. It is run by the Barzani clan (politically embodied in the Kurdish Democratic Party -KDP) that decided on the referendum precisely because of the pressure it was under from rival groups (the Talabani clan represented by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Gorran movement). None of these parties meet in a parliamentary setting: their role is purely and simply to carve out and rule different pieces of Northern Iraq.

Without the support of Turkey, the KRG wouldn’t have survived its problems with a dysfunctional Iraqi government in Baghdad over the last few years. It doesn’t have the wherewithal to make independence a reality, essentially launching both the Kurdish and non-Kurdish populations of the area into the unknown. Arab and Turkmen residents in the area will fear for their lives, while even Kurds are unlikely to benefit from a system that is socially just. But Barzani is under fire now from his own followers for a gross political miscalculation, and his future is in doubt.

Ironically, however, Barzani’s rash move seems to have strengthened the hand of the Astana trio (Russia-Turkey-Iran). This would not have been predicted by Barzani’s CIA and Mossad advisers. After Putin’s visit to Ankara, Russia is likely to trade its support of Turkey against the KRG referendum in exchange for Turkey’s support for the Russian solution in Syria. This will effectively reinforce the structures of cooperation that have been forged regionally at Astana over the Syria question, and extend them into the Iraqi political quagmire, to provide a framework within which the Iraqi government can be encouraged to reform without facing new potentially existential questions.

Part of what will be driving these developments is the perception by all parties that behind Barzani’s asinine decision lies a US-Israeli axis that will seek co-opt Saudi Arabia and the UAE into exploiting the Kurdistan referendum to start another round of proxy wars in the area. There is no doubt that military manoeuvres on KRG borders by Iranian and Turkish forces together with the Iraqi army reflect an urgent sense of preparing for the worst.

The neocon philosophy dominating the thinking of Barzani’s foreign advisers is typically always linear and always fails to understand the principle of reaction. Not only can Iran and Turkey see them coming, but these regional players now have the power jointly to do something about it, especially if Russia sees it is in its interest to come off the fence.

Iran in particular sees any Kurdistani project as a potential cordon sanitaire that will have the effect of cutting it off from Lebanon, to try to achieve the results that the botched war against Assad never could. So, contained in Hassan Nasrallah’s warnings to Israel and the US over coming conflicts is a promise to take the war to the occupied territories in that  event.